Choosing the right doctor for you can be a confusing process, but it doesn’t have to be.
So rather than overwhelming yourself by jumping right in to healthcare provider directories online, the best way to start is good old-fashioned word of mouth, said Harlan Krumholz, M.D., a cardiologist at Yale University and volunteer for the American Heart Association.
Friends and family can help you narrow your search, but you also have to scrutinize that information, he said. “Everyone is left to rely on word of mouth, but make sure to go to doctors who are affiliated with reputable establishments,” Dr. Krumholz said.
Communication is the Thing
One of the most important aspects of the healthcare provider-patient relationship is communication. You must be comfortable with your physician. Use this guide from the American Heart Association about preparing for your medical visit to help with that first conversation.
“If you meet someone that doesn’t match your communication style, you should switch,” Dr. Krumholz said. Another part of the initial screening process is checking out a physician’s credentials. “Check their board certification statuses and make sure that your doctor is board certified to ensure quality care,” Krumholz said. If they are not board certified then you should ask why not. For quick checking, he recommends the websites for the American Board of Internal Medicine(link opens in new window) and the American Board of Family Medicine(link opens in new window).
Finding the Right Heart Specialist
It is important to have a primary healthcare provider for ensuring your overall health, but it’s also important because this doctor can facilitate a referral to a cardiologist.
“Ideally you are referred to a cardiologist by a general practitioner who knows your medical history or problems – and knows you and your preferences,” Dr. Krumholz said. “It’s best when you have a general practitioner organize and communicate all of the necessary information about a patient to their cardiologist. They can help you find the right specialist for you.”
Another good way to check out cardiologists is simply knowing the organizations they’re affiliated with and how much work they do. “Physicians who see a lot of patients and are affiliated with reputable organizations have the implicit endorsement of the organizations and patients,” Dr. Krumholz said. Also, for those that do procedures, more experience tends to be associated with better performance.
Am I getting the best care possible?
Whether dealing with your primary care physician or your cardiologist, don’t hesitate to look elsewhere if you feel uncomfortable about their care or how they interact with you, Dr. Krumholz said.
“If there is any question about recommended practices, you should seek a second opinion,” he said, noting a few of the possible reasons for looking around:
- When you feel that the communication style is not matching your own
- If your doctor is not connecting with you
- If the recommendation involves an intervention that is risky or expensive and you are unsure of the reason you need it
You should know that even good doctors do not always make the same recommendations and it is often good to hear different viewpoints.
If you are concerned about your doctor’s legal history, Dr. Krumholz said to check that out as well.
“Some states have websites that list lawsuits or disciplinary actions that have been taken against medical professionals,” he said. “I would check those.” Actions do not always signal something negative about a doctor, but a repetitive pattern could suggest a problem and you are entitled to know this information and ask about it, if you want.
“Overall, there are many good doctors – but you need to find the right fit for you”, said Dr. Krumholz. “There are many styles and choices even among those that know their stuff the best.”